Druckerman is well aware of society-level differences like this. “My book is implicitly an effort to show that there are other legitimate ways to spend our tax dollars, and you can have these structures without ending up in the Soviet Union,” she said. “But I do think that a lot of parenting is private, too. Getting your kids to sleep through the night and teaching them how to eat vegetables and conceiving of yourself, especially for women, as a person outside of your role as a parent … those are things that, once you realize that you’re following your own cultural script, maybe you can get outside of it a little bit.”
When parents try to import some European practices, though, laws and social norms can impede their efforts. Sara Zaske, in her 2018 book on German parenting, Achtung Baby, explains that “Berliners place a high value on children getting fresh air, so leaving a baby outside [in a stroller] is considered [a] healthy thing to do.” However, she writes, “the practice of leaving a sleeping baby unattended for even a short time is so antithetical to the American idea of safety that when a Danish mother left her small child outside a restaurant in New York City, she was arrested for it.”
Having the freedom to leave children outside may not be something that American parents yearn for, but they can’t be blamed for wanting something different after reading about laid-back parents in other parts of the world. Yet given how much of parenting culture is out of parents’ control—and in governments’—these books, enlightening as they are, can also be stressors. “If you feel overwhelmed, and everyone around you feels overwhelmed … doesn’t it feel worse to think that there are a whole bunch of women in Europe who are just having a fabulous time?” says Quirke, the sociologist studying parenting advice.
This doesn’t seem to be hurting demand, and in fact, the market of concerned parents extends far beyond American borders. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Bringing Up Bébé have each been translated into roughly 30 languages. Druckerman said she was surprised to see the book catch on in Brazil, Russia, Japan, and elsewhere, and takes this as evidence that parents around the world, not just in the U.S., are frazzled and overwhelmed.
One place the book didn’t sell particularly well was France, where Druckerman has witnessed a different relationship to parenting guides. "It’s more about educating yourself and digesting information and figuring out the way that you want to do things,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a sense that you need or want a parenting guru." (Indeed, the sociologist Caitlyn Collins has found, in interviews with middle-class American and European mothers, that the latter “rarely invoked expert views, instead talking about traits they wanted to instill in their children (stability, independence, kindness) and wanting them to feel safe and loved.”)
Of course, Druckerman also noted that French parents might not have been clamoring for her book simply because they didn’t need their own methods explained to them. Perhaps, I suggested to her, someone could write an account of American parenting for a French audience, like Bringing Up Bébé in reverse. She suggested that it should be a satire.